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VOA Interview: African Union Ambassador to US Chihombori-Quao

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VOA’s Cindy Saine talks with African Union Ambassador to the U.S. Arikana Chihombori-Quao.

Saine: “Ambassador, what kind of reaction has there been in Africa to the derogatory comments on immigrants from Africa attributed to President (Donald) Trump?”

African Union Ambassador to the U.S. Arikana Chihombori-Quao: “Well let me start by saying now that he has denied having said it, we are all neutral. However, prior to his denial, we were outraged, infuriated, disgusted and really flat-out abused.”

Saine: “Right, and … I’m wondering if it’s not just so much the comments – which there is some dispute, did he say exactly this word or was it a different word – with several people in the room saying that he did express the sentiment that he would rather have more immigrants from Norway or European countries and also some of the recent policies from the Department of Homeland Security and … I’m just wondering, not just that particular – one particular remark – but if you feel like the whole America First policy of the Trump administration, has that done any lasting damage to U.S.-African ties?”

Chihombori-Quao: “I think it’s a wound that is going to leave a very deep scar, and -uh- that’s troubling for me in the sense that I’m here to ensure, promote – uh – good relationships between the U.S. and Africa. Comments of that nature make it an uphill battle to try and continue to solidify that relationship. I like to often say in my office, I’m here to make sure that America remains Africa’s BFF. You know, best friend forever. So, it’s important that we relate with each other from a point of equality, and those sort of comments do not help in any relationship really, be it country to country, continent to continent, or even in a marriage. I think mutual respect of each other as –uh- human beings is- is- just the right way to go.”

Saine: “Right … I’m sure you are in touch with ambassadors and with leaders in Africa. Have any formal actions been taken in response or do you expect any to come?”

Chihombori-Quao: “I expect some to come. There has been a lot of calling among the ambassadors, who are still quite outraged. Even as I was on my way here, a couple ambassadors called just wanting to hurry up and have this meeting and certain positions have been thrown around and … we’ll see what happens when we meet.”

Saine: “Right. Is there anything you think the president could say or do to make amends and to clarify the situation? Do you think that he should – he should – make clear that those are not his views?”

Chihombori-Quao: “It would be nice if he would categorically deny… having said that. Um, which of course he has … but what’s really difficult for all of us – we had the comments of Nigerians going back to their huts – that was painful, and then when you look at just the overall picture for us as Africans, we are disrespected so often and how we feel on any issue is irrelevant – uh – at least that’s the feeling we get. Uh – We are exploited, have been for centuries. The exploitation continues. We are taken for granted as Africans and quite often you can’t help but wonder – but wonder sometimes – and it’s not just the US, we’re talking in general by other countries – how much of it has to do with the pigmentation in our skin? Uh- because it’s done so systematically and it gets in the way of development on the continent. We have some of the best tourist attractions in the world and yet we are enjoying just a fraction of the tourism dollars around the globe and a lot of it has to do with the – uh- the brush we’ve been painted with over the years. You know we are the brightest continent. I would like to think that the sun shines brightest over Africa than anywhere else on earth and yet we are referred to as “The Dark Continent”- words like that, you know? Diseased and dying continent – really? Look at me. Do I look diseased and dying? You know? Just outrageous depiction of our beautiful continent that is designed to keep us at a certain place and never allow Africa to take its rightful place on the world stage. To me, that is the most painful thing and it is such an uphill battle unless we come together as Africans and take a position and say enough is enough. We can no longer continue to tolerate abuse of any kind in any way, shape or form from anybody. Ally or Foe. They will continue to do it. And – um – by they I mean really the world.”

Saine: “Right, and you point out other countries, France and other European countries, that are having similar issues with their immigration policies and – ”

Chihombori-Quao: “Right, but Africa becomes – uh — a playground or like a football. They just there go to play, and – uh, exploit – I mean you take for example, you brought in France. I mean if Africans – Francophone African countries – were to decide today that all French companies must get out of Africa. That all the monies that are going to France, estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars annually, if all that funding would stop going to France today, France will immediately become the third world country and Africa no longer needs to be getting aide from anybody. If you look at the billions of dollars France is getting out of Africa every year and then the fraction that they give back to Africa in the name of aide, out of what I like to call loot. They loot from us at night and during the day they come back and give us a pittance of the loot in the name of aide. It is a joke, and how we Africans have tolerated this for centuries is sad. But you know, it’s not too late. We have got to change this situation. We have got to start benefitting from our God-given natural resources. And yet, if you look at our minerals, we get royalties. French companies swoop into Africa. They bring French men to come in, working in the mines, in the industries, in the oil rigs, and we get royalties. 12 to 15 percent. It’s mind boggling. It’s completely mind boggling.”

Saine: “Before this latest incident, how was President Trump viewed broadly in Africa?”

Chihombori-Quao: “Well, let me make this clear. America is Africa’s best ally. That will never change. The Americans that I have lived with and grown to know over the past 40 years that I’ve lived in this country, the Americans that I’ve gotten to really know from a very deep level as a practicing physician have not changed. Amazing people. People that I met first as Peace Corps teachers in my high school in Zimbabwe. People who had such a deep effect on me, that I knew when I grew up that wherever they came from that’s where I wanted to go .Those people -that American – I have always loved and cherished. And so, when President Trump came to be President, he was an American. We respect him. He is the leader of the free world, and so that was our approach to him and we still would like to give him a chance to maintain that position among the Africans.”

Saine: “Right – um – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said he is planning his first visit as Secretary to the African continent early this year. Do you think that the secretary should still go in light of these remarks and do you think that he will make this visit?”

Chihombori-Quao: “I think he should go. I have personally met Secretary Tillerson. He’s – he’s — looks like a very nice man. Our relationship with America will continue. This is just a stumbling block, and I am here to see to it that we have the best relationship with America that Africa can have, and yes we will receive Secretary Tillerson with open arms and give him the warm African reception which is the only way we know how to treat our guests. So yes, I think he should go.”

Saine: “Excellent – um – Some critics are saying that the remarks that have been attributed to the president are particularly insensitive due to the fact that immigrants from Africa are the only ones who were brought to America against their will as slaves. Could you comment a little bit on that, on this aspect of how – how – African immigrants perceive – not just, not just- perhaps from the President, but from your day to day experience maybe with others?”

Chihombori-Quao: “Well, I have to say, it’s not easy being a black person on Earth. I take it even further and say the most endangered species on earth is a black man. So when you look at it from that crude reality that we deal with on a daily basis as black people, it is very, very painful. It hurts to think that you can encounter certain situations, on a daily basis, simply because of the melanin – the quantity of the melanin in your skin – I will give you a simple example. I’m a medical doctor. Practice medicine for 26 years in this country, and I remember pulling up into my parking lot at my office and there was a car in the parking lot, obviously of someone waiting to be seen by me, but it had a big bumper sticker that said ‘Proud to be KKK’ and I remember thinking – there is someone who feels that way who is in my building waiting to be seen by me, and yet he still harbors those kinds of feelings towards me. Even though, I may walk into a room and say – uh, sir you need to take off your clothes, and I come back three minutes later and he’s stark naked. I have that much power over him, and yet he still feels he is better than me simply because of my melanin. That’s a tough one. It’s really a tough pill to swallow as we go through this journey that is life as black people on earth. That’s hard.”

Saine: “That’s quite a disconnect, but I know that your job as you say is to promote the best possible ties and how important is the relationship to the United States for the countries of Africa?”

Chihombori-Quao: “Oh my goodness, we love the United States. We value our relationship with the United States which is why we would like to see us continue to get better and like I said be the BFF that we want America to be, and we hope America will reciprocate and also look at Africa as its BFF. We need each other. We must engage from a point of equality where we can mutually benefit from the relationship without one feeling superior to the other, and unless we can operate from that point of view, the new African is not going to put up with that. And, that’s something I am going to do my best to empress to the U.S. government that we can no longer play this game with the old strategies. I like in our relationship to basketball match. You know when the coach calls his team to the sidelines and they’re scribbling on the note pads? I often wonder what they’re talking, but my son then told me mommy, they’re strategizing. We’re at a point where America needs to re-strategize because the game they’re playing with Africa is a losing game, and there’s need for them to re-strategize because the new African is saying uh-uh, not this time.”

Saine: “Um, looking forward what specific steps, do you think that both the U.S. and Africa can do to strengthen their relationship, as you say, with the new Africa and work together. The U.S. is very dependent on a number of African countries to help fight terrorism and to promote economic well-being and prosperity in both continents.”

Chihombori-Quao: “Well we continue to collaborate effectively, for example, terrorism as you mentioned. We are collaborating in various areas with the U.S. government. We have a working relationship, don’t get me wrong. We have a very good, solid working relationship with the U.S. government. That relationship needs to get better. It needs to continue to be solidified, and we need to feel, get the sense, that we are being treated as equals not only by the United States but all countries that are engaged in Africa. More importantly, the uphill battle is with our colonial – former colonial – masters. See the relationship with America is not so difficult in the sense that it’s not weighted down by the legacy of colonialism, so we can engage the United States because we feel like they understand what it means to have been colonized and so that’s an easier relationship to manage which is why I truly believe America and Africa can be the best friends that they are designed to be. And, we both parties just have to work at it with similar spirt.”

Saine: “Can you tell me about – um- the views expressed on immigrants? Is that going to be an issue at the next African Union meeting? Are there going to be meetings in Washington? Can you just tell me if that’s going to be a big item on the agenda coming up?”

Chihombori-Quao: “It is a big item on the agenda, and the heads of states are going to be talking about it. Yes. They are furious, I’m just going to tell you like it is. They are furious. Like my daughter likes to say – fuming from every orifice. [LAUGHS] They are furious. Yes, my chairman, you know he spoke to Ambassador Marybeth, the U.S. Ambassador to the AU and he made position very clear.”

Saine: “So you think we’ll be hearing more- maybe -formal reactions in the days to come?”

Chihombori-Quao: “Um, I don’t about from the AU but I do know that it’s on the agenda. It’s on the agenda absolutely”

Saine: “OK, well is there anything else that I have not covered ambassador that you would like to say to our audience?”

Chihombori-Quao: “Well, I would like to say I am privilege to have lived the past 40 years in- um- one of the most beautiful countries on earth, next to Africa of course [LAUGHS] next to the African continent absolutely. And – um – I am very grateful to the American people for – um – the reception that I have received. I am very grateful to my patients for making me who I am – uh – today. I learnt a lot by going through situations with my patients. I feel like I have experienced so much, and so I am very grateful to my patients. And then, lastly, the Africa Bureau staff – they are amazing at the State Department. I want to thank –Secretary, um – Asst. Sec. Yamamoto. He is an amazing guy. He has an amazing team. Which really makes the job a lot easier, because they really are incredible people. I have worked more closely with them, and I am very grateful, to –uh- their ears. They listen, they care. And – uh – so to that extent they are making my job a little bit easier. As you know, I am a medical doctor. I was not a career diplomatic leader, a career politician and so coming to an African Bureau that has people who are so humble and grounded, it has made my job a lot easier. So, I would like to make sure that people are aware that there are many aspects of what is happening here that are going to be lost in the shuffle. I have met some incredible people working for the State Department and I like to make it clear that I am very grateful for their friendship and how well they have received me.”

Saine: “Alright. Thank you so much. It’s a real pleasure talking to you.”

Chihombori-Quao: “Thank you again for having me.”

Saine: “Thank you”

Africa

Crate-digging millennials are seeking out classic East African music

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Tucked between butchers and hair braiders in Nairobi’s Kenyatta Market is the Real Vinyl Guru, a shabby stall that has become a mecca for vinyl lovers.

James ‘Jimmy’ Rugami has sold second-hand records from stall 570 since 1989. In the cramped space, hundreds of seven and 12-inch vinyls are tightly packed. Among hit Motown albums is a veritable trove of East African music.

Among them is the Kenyan-based Tanzanian duo Simba Wanyika and the recently re-discovered “Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa.” They’re all mementos of a bygone era, when Nairobi’s record presses created a hub for the regions musicians in the 70s and 80s. Many flocked to Nairobi to lay down their tracks and stayed to become part of a vibrant local scene.

Rugami entered that scene in 1986 when he left his life selling clothes in the town of Meru at the foot of Mount Kenya, and became a DJ in Nairobi. When the fast life became too much, he opted to sell music instead of spinning it, obsessively collecting records and tapes, wherever he could find them.

“I used to drive all the way to Dar es Salaam, then take a boat to Zanzibar and buy tapes there,” he recalls. “That’s where people were supplying the best stuff, especially jazz, which in Nairobi was either unavailable or very expensive.”

When the stall became almost exclusively vinyl, people thought he was mad for holding on to an outdated technology, he told the Associated Press. Still, they nicknamed him Mr. Records.

“It is not once or twice I have been labelled insane, very many times,” he said. “Well, I couldn’t stop.”

Rugami’s devotion to vinyl outlasted the cassette, CDs and streaming to welcome crate-digging millennials craving the rich tone of a record. In the few years, his stall has attracted tourists from around the world, and young Nairobians rediscovering their country’s pop roots.

Now the Real Vinyl Guru makes enough money to employ five people and Rugami’s loyalty to the distinctive crackle of a record is paying off.

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Africa

DP World says Djibouti incident could hurt Africa investment

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DUBAI (Reuters) – Port operator DP World said on Thursday that Djibouti’s decision to seize control of a terminal project could hurt African efforts to attract investment.

The Dubai state-owned port operator is facing twin political challenges in Africa.

Djibouti abruptly ended its contract to run the Doraleh Container Terminal last month and Somalia’s parliament voted this week to ban the company.

DP World has called the Djibouti move illegal and said it had begun proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, which last year cleared the company of all charges of misconduct over the concession.

“Africa needs infrastructure investments and if countries can change their law [to take assets then this] is going to basically make it more difficult to attract investment,” Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem told a news conference in Dubai.
DP World reported 14.9 percent rise in 2017 profit to $1.18 billion profit and said that it would invest $1.4 billion across its global portfolio including in Berbera in Somaliland. [L8N1QX0F2]

It is developing a port in Berbera in partnership with the governments of Somaliland and Ethiopia. It is also developing a greenfield free trade zone in the breakaway region.

Bin Sulayem said he was not concerned by the vote in Somalia’s parliament to ban DP World from the country, which the parliament said nullified their Somaliland contract.

It is unclear how Somalia’s federal government could enforce the ban given Somaliland’s semi-autonomous status.

Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for about 42 percent of the cargo DP World handled in 2017.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; editing by Jason Neely

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Africa

African arms imports down

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DEFENCE WEB — Over the last decade, African arms imports dropped by 22 per cent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), but Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria continued to order large quantities of weapons and equipment.

In its Trends in International Arms Transfers 2017 fact sheet released this week, SIPRI said that African arms sales dropped 22% between 2008-12 and 2013-17. Much of the hardware that was supplied went to Algeria (52% of African arms imports), Morocco (12%) and Nigeria (5.1%).

“Major arms play an important role in the military operations by sub-Saharan African states, although, due to lack of resources, procurement typically involves small numbers of mainly relatively low-end weapons,” SIPRI said.

States in sub-Saharan Africa received 32% of total African imports in 2013–17. The top five arms importers in sub-Saharan Africa were Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, Cameroon and Ethiopia. Together, they accounted for 56% of arms imports to the subregion. Nigeria’s arms imports grew by 42 % between 2008–12 and 2013–17, SIPRI noted.

Russian arms exports to Africa fell by 32% compared with 2008–12, but despite the decrease, Russia accounted for 39% of total imports to the region. Algeria received 78% of Russia’s arms transfers to Africa in 2013–17.

China’s arms exports to Africa rose by 55% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and its share of total African arms imports increased from 8.4% to 17%. “A total of 22 sub-Saharan African countries procured major arms from China in 2013–17, and China accounted for 27% of sub-Saharan African arms imports in that period (compared with 16% in 2008–12). In North Africa, China became an important supplier to Algeria in 2013–17, with deliveries including three frigates and artillery,” SIPRI reported.

The United States accounted for 11% of arms exports to Africa in 2013–17 – the transfers were mainly small batches of weapons and included eight helicopters for Kenya and five for Uganda, which were supplied as US military aid. In 2013–17 Kenya—which is fighting al-Shabab on its own territory and in Somalia— acquired 13 transport helicopters, 2 second-hand combat helicopters, 65 light armoured vehicles and a small number of self-propelled howitzers.

SIPRI lists Egypt’s acquisitions as falling under the Middle East – if these are included in the continent’s statistics they push up Africa’s imports significantly as arms imports by Egypt grew by 215% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.

SIPRI noted that the US has been Egypt’s main arms supplier since the late 1970s, and accounted for 45% of Egypt’s arms imports in 2008–12. “However, between 2013 and 2015 the US halted deliveries of certain arms, in particular combat aircraft, to Egypt. In 2014 Egypt signed major arms deals with France, and deliveries started in 2015. As a result, France accounted for 37 % of Egypt’s arms imports in 2013–17 and overtook the USA to become the main arms supplier to Egypt for that period. This was despite the fact that the USA ended its restrictions in 2015 and increased its overall arms supplies to Egypt by 84% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.”

Globally, SIPRI in its latest report said that the volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013–17 was 10% higher than in 2008–12, a continuation of the upward trend that began in the early 2000s.

The five largest exporters in 2013–17 were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. The United States in 2013-17 had a 34% share of the global market, followed by Russia (22%), France (6.7%), Germany (5.8%) and China (5.7%).

The USA supplied major arms to 98 states in 2013–17. Exports to states in the Middle East accounted for 49 per cent of total US arms exports in that period. “Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”

The five largest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China. Most states in the Middle East were directly involved in violent conflict in 2013–17 and consequently arms imports by states in the region increased by 103% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and accounted for 32% of global arms imports in 2013–17.

“Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in Western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

SIPRI said the flow of arms to the Middle East and Asia and Oceania increased between 2008–12 and 2013–17, while there was a decrease in the flow to the Americas, Africa and Europe.

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